What does it take?
Here is an article written by Roger Bourland of UCLA about a student who appllied and did not get in. When I first read this thread I was not angry, I was amazed. I was impressed. It’s obvious that the student was not accpected because his musical skills were deemed unfit, which is perfectly reasonable. But at what point do you go to school for music? At what point do you learn to write, reherse and perform your own compositions?
From the article it can be assumed that either this applicant’s writing is either a) terribad and needs guidance, b) was just “out there” or c) it may reflect popular music styles that Mr. Bourland didn’t approve of. With Classical Music being in a decline since the 1900’s and the interest of it ever fading, one would think that embracing those with a passion in it would be a good idea. Also any one of the three problems above could be solved or even exploited and put to good use.
Here’s how Roger Bourland handles it:
I told him that it was unlikely that he would be admitted to those schools, writing the way he writes. I encouraged him to not be disappointed because the teachers he would be working with there, would not approve of the music he is writing…
It seems that Mr. Bourland’s main problem with this applicant was that there was no interaction with other musicians:
He didn’t have any performances by people; all of his “performances” were computer playback. He doesn’t participate in the musical process. I told him to GO to that oboe recital… But the component most lacking, was being involved with other musicians. Music is a social art, and if you don’t like people, you are in the wrong art. Young composers can’t just sit at home at their computers, churning out music for no one. Music must be for warm bodies; for live performers who play music by living composers for a live audience.
I don’t know about other composer. But I had no access to other musicians until I got into undergraduate school. I lived on an island. The only moderately decent orchestra was 2 hours away in Key West and would have little or no time for an amature like me. If the music was of high school level there were no string players and very few brass, woodwind and percussionist to choose from. There would have been no way for me to get my music performed and/or recorded with any ease… especially in time to get recordings to a college/university.
There are some good points in Roger’s article though. If there is no interaction between the musicians and composer you can’t really feel the music. You can get a vague idea but it sounds nothing like a midi playback. The dynamics are different with each and every classical instrument depending on the range. The pitch is different as well. Take a bari saxophone for example: the lower register is very deep and very muddy, the mid range is nice and clean and the typical sound of a saxophone and the high range is squeeky… very squeeky. Also you encounter problems with fingerings and such. However, it is a very
good starting point. It alleviates some financial problems for composers as well as time consumption.
The things I disagree with most though are:
Young composers can’t just sit at home at their computers, churning out music for no one. Music must be for warm bodies; for live performers who play music by living composers for a live audience.
Which he did later retract a bit.
Composers can sit at home and do whatever they want. Just because they don’t get their music to a live audience doesn’t make them any less of a composer. It just makes them an unknown or undiscovered composer. It’s his choice. With his retraction Roger Bourland added:
On second thought: I disagree. Music CAN be for live people and such, but it is just fine on an iPod, a personal home sound system, or as a pre-canned soundtrack for dance, theater, movies and such. I do feel strongly that experience with real instruments and live performers is invaluable.
This I agree with full heartily.
His music had no performance detail, other than notes and rhythms: no tempo, no dynamics, no articulation. No description as to how the piece should go. I sang one passage and showed how it might be faster or slower, or louder or softer, or with different articulation to make the point; and each, a different musical utterance.
Everyone is different in their writing. Some people go through and write each note with each articulation, each crescendo and decrescendo. Everything they can think of is written down, including a description of how a note should be played down to the details of the lips of the performer. Others start with a single instrument and write the whole piece through that. Others write a condensed score for piano first. As far as articulations and dynamics go I don’t put any articulations or dynamics in until I am at least half way done with the piece. That is unless there is a specific part that absolutely has to be that way. I do, though, start with at least a general idea of what tempo marking I’d like to have. And only when I am finally done with the first draft of the full piece do I add in an expression such as “fluidly”, “cheerful” or “gloomy”. Get with the times, buddy. Just because he doesn’t have live recordings doesn’t make him any less of a composer. And why not support your fellow classical music lovers?
I would also like to point out that Wagner was not a very good musician by his own right. He could barely perform on any instrument. However, we do reguard him as a great composer.
Although I have not listened to this prospective student’s compositions I would have to agree with Roger Bourland’s advice on the matter. A standard has to be set.
So arises another question: Does one have to be a great performer to be a great composer? Or does it just help?